77.5 F
San Fernando
Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023


By SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter There is a strip along Ventura Boulevard where no quaint antique shops or vintage clothing boutiques are in business, where the coffee houses and outdoor cafes give way to auto repair centers, adult motels and tattoo parlors. Cross Ventura east of Colfax Avenue and you will find the seamier side of Studio City, the wrong side of the tracks. While merchants and builders scour the rest of Ventura Boulevard looking for sites, this stretch has languished, an undistinguished blur travelers see through their windows while on their way to the bustling shopping centers to the west or to Universal City to the east. Now that may change. Three new projects on Ventura Boulevard between Colfax and Vineland avenues promise to transform the area into a more active commercial district despite major obstacles such as the cost of land and topography that makes building difficult. “There’s been more interest in the past year than there has been in the last 10 years,” said Tom Henry, planning deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, whose district includes most of the area. “That’s very encouraging.” The newest of the three projects is Studio City Plaza, a $1.5 million office complex nearing the end of the permit process. Across the street, Extra Space Storage has plans to build a 35,000-square-foot facility and public hearings have begun on that project. And at the eastern corner, VDA Property Co. has started construction on Studio Plaza, a 100,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by a Ralphs and a Rite-Aid. Locals hope that these three projects will serve as a foundation for further development that would extend the thriving Studio City village commercial district running roughly between Laurel Canyon and Coldwater Canyon boulevards to the community’s eastern border. “It’s like when you have a shopping center with anchor tenants,” said Robert Piken, president of the Piken Co., a brokerage management and development company. “That helps attract tenants to fill in the other stores between them.” Developers long have considered the corridor to be well situated for commercial development. It is close to CBS Studio Center, Universal City and the entertainment giants in Burbank, making it attractive for production-related companies. And the hillside homes perched above the south side of Ventura Boulevard, along with the multi-family dwellings to the north, provide a strong market for retail development. “The demographics are very good,” said Tom Von Der Ahe, president of VDA Property, which is developing Studio Plaza. In addition to the local population, Ventura Boulevard provides a major thoroughfare of travelers going west into the Valley or east into Hollywood. “Potential customers have to come right past our center,” Von Der Ahe said. But developers like Von Der Ahe and Joseph Shayfer, who is behind the Studio Plaza complex, have been reluctant pioneers in tapping these markets. Von Der Ahe began the project after a number of other developers approached him with an interest in buying the property. He initially faced opposition from local residents, who didn’t like the idea of a 24-hour supermarket in the area (although the group has since put its support behind the project). Shayfer, who also endured a long battle with the Studio City Residents Association, wound up spending about double what he had originally intended for his development. “Over the past three years, this property has been nothing but a nightmare,” Shayfer said. About three years ago, Shayfer set out to rebuild one of the buildings on his property that was red-tagged after the Northridge earthquake. The site had housed a body shop, auto-detailing center and a restaurant, and Shayfer’s plan was to rebuild the red-tagged building and repair the others, keeping the site an auto-repair center. But soon after Shayfer demolished the red-tagged building, city inspectors found that the soil under the property, which at one time had been a landfill, was unstable. Shayfer had to demolish all the buildings and erect pillars 60 feet deep before he could rebuild. “Before, I could have finished construction at $800,000,” Shayfer said. “From day one, it got out of control. First 20-foot caissons, then 30 feet. Finally, we got out of the foundation stage and we began going through the final permits, and I’m up against the toughest homeowners association, and they hate this project. So everything stopped.” So fierce was the opposition to the auto repair project that Shayfer ultimately hired a new architect and landscaper, and reshaped his development to become a 10,000-square-foot office complex. He estimates the cost will reach $1.5 million, excluding the land and the interest on the unanticipated loan he had to draw to pay the $400,000 bill for the new foundation. Only the Extra Space Storage project has gone smoothly, largely because the company anticipated the residents’ objections. Extra Space Storage hired an architect who designed the facade of the 35,000-square-foot facility to look like a European streetscape. The additional $100,000 the company plans to spend on the design represents a relatively small percentage of the $2.5 million development cost. And the extra features can serve as advertising to attract potential customers to the storage facility, said Bruce Kaufman, a partner with the Salt Lake City-based company. But even with community support, developers point out that the problems of building in this area can be staggering. First there is the topography. Because of the way the Los Angeles River and the Tujunga Wash snake through the area, and because of the hillsides to the south, the lots are narrow. Retail centers would require far more parking than the size of the sites allows. And developers can’t compensate for the land restrictions by building vertically because zoning regulations impose a three-story limit. The hillsides also pose problems. Developers have to build walls to make certain that the project doesn’t undermine the structure of the hill, and residents have insisted on expensive landscaping to hide the retaining walls. Finally, there is the nature of the neighborhood, which, in addition to the auto shops, houses at least three motels with signs advertising X-rated videos another deterrent to those who would seek to attract shoppers or even office tenants. “Due to the mountains to the south, it’s difficult to get depth, and it’s difficult to get a large enough site,” said Jack Norafshan, the principal of Reliable Properties, a Los Angeles developer that is interested in finding a project in the area. “Also, there’s a lot of motels that are not very inviting, so a lot of work needs to be done in order to make this a desirable neighborhood.” Surprisingly, the cost of land does not reflect the problems. Though he would not disclose the price of the property, Kaufman said, “We paid a ton for it.” And Norafshan said his search so far has not yielded any property, in part because asking prices have been too high. But that is not stopping Norafshan, who hopes to find a site for a shopping center. “If we find the right site, we’d be very interested in it,” he said. Studio City is a coveted location for retailers, and, except for this corridor, there is virtually no space to be had along Ventura Boulevard, its primary thoroughfare. “The area between Coldwater (Canyon Boulevard) and Laurel (Canyon Boulevard) is pretty saturated,” said Piken, whose company manages Studio City Place, until now one of only two shopping centers east of Colfax. “As the demand gets greater, they can’t accommodate all that demand, so there has to be more development.” Office Depot has recently announced plans to construct a store in Studio City Place, and occupancy at neighboring Studio Village has remained near full for a number of years. Todd Nathanson, director of the San Fernando Valley office of Centers Business Management, which manages Studio Village, said he expects demand in the area will increase further with the planned opening of the subway station in Universal City. “I think you’re going to have a lot of people who will park and ride, and they have to go right through the corridor,” Nathanson said. “When I think of opportunity, I think that section of Studio City is poised for it.”

Previous article
Next article

Featured Articles

Related Articles